Drinking outside the box

Ripple - the wine that winks back at youComing of age in the South before the late 1970’s, one didn’t have much use for a corkscrew. Rumored to be the perfect accompaniment to smoking pot, wines were generally of the screw off type, didn’t require a glass, were available at better gas stations almost everywhere, and did seem to go with just about anything you’d eat in your car.

Among our many favorites, all with high alcohol content, artificial coloring and flavors, lots of sugar and priced under a dollar were: Ripple (it is said the Black Jesus turned water into Ripple – aka: the national wine of Watts); Boone’s Farm (20 flavors including Apple, Piña Colada, Melon Ball and Tickle Pink); MD 20/20 (aka: Mad Dog and made by Mogen David); Annie Green Springs; Orange Driver (tastes even worse when puked); Thunderbird; Cisco; Wild Irish Rose; and for fifty-cents more and only for special dates, there was Cold Duck (aka: Cold Turkey, Chicken, Gander or Stork and made from the dregs of wine and champagne).

Bum_WineThe flavor of these wines seemed to improve a good bit when mixed with beer – though they ruined the beer. Made famous by the classic 1949 R&B song, “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” by Stick McGhee, these wines were a commercial version of the original street version said to be made from alcohol and found-fruit left to marinate in a trash can for a few days. Which, of course, led us later to the recipe for PJ, but I digress.

Most of these wines were banned in the South as our frontal lobes began to come in and we were forced to switch to more sophisticated wines now only seen on Mad Men. Living in an age before Wine Spectator or the “internets”, yet aspiring to have the public sophistication of James Bond, we were forced to use our instincts. I remember so vividly an occasion in 1971 when I was invited to dinner by a high school friend at Greenville, SC’s exclusive, race and gender controlled, Poinsett Club. Our host was presented a wine list. Unable to recognize a name and unwilling to ask, my friend leaned to the ear of our black waiter and whispered. Turning back to us, he said, “It’s special occasion, so I ordered my favorite wine.” What John Walker couldn’t see from his chair, I did. The waiter went to maître d’, shared a laugh and disappeared for a few moments. Seconds later, wearing an overcoat, he left the restaurant. About 15 minutes had gone by when the waiter reappeared carrying a paper sack with a bottle of Mateus Rose purchased from a neighborhood Handy Mart.

Mateus_RoseOnly a few wines were available in the supermarkets we had way back then – if you can believe it, grocery stores were about the size of a modern library and libraries then were the size of a modern supermarket. Popular wines included Mateus Rose and Lancers (Portugal), Blue Nun (Germany), Italian Swiss Colony (California) and a handful of others.

We were forced to learn to use a cork screw. In subsequent years, I have mastered dozens of types of corkscrews from simple pull and mechanical versions, to those that force air into the bottle, to battery powered versions easier on my arthritis. Never fully escaping my roots, I have feigned the knowledge of the vinophile. Ordered wonderful wines on different continents. Swirled, sniffed, sipped, savoured and swilled away my credit limits and my childrens’ inheritance. Then yesterday, I bought a box wine.

That’s right, a box the size of a dictionary that magically holds four bottles of wine and costs about the same as Two Buck Chuck (current Trader Joe’s price in Atlanta: three bucks, plus tax, but not on Sunday). The wine was for my wife. My otherwise brilliant wife who was faced with her John Walker moment. Struggling with the dotted line and not wishing to admit she had never opened a box of wine, she followed her instincts. Taking a knife to pierce the box… well, you can guess the rest.

11 thoughts on “Drinking outside the box

  1. Dallas

    Good to the last drop on the floor? Minus a knife-wielding romantic, a box will hold the wine, but not the candle. Thanks for swing down memory lane.

  2. Kay Powell

    I still keep pepper sauce in a MD 20/20 bottle and enjoy the memories people share when I take it with turnip, mustard or collard greens to pot luck suppers. Good piece, Lee.

  3. Melinda Ennis

    Lee, just the thought of Boone’s Farm this early in the morning is enough to make me green (as in Annie Green Springs ). I can still remember the smell of my particular favorite, Strawberry Hill (a cross between strawberry-flavored bubble gum and Pinesol).
    Of course after years of dedicated wine drinking to refine my pallet, thanks to the Great Recession, it’s now mostly three buck chuck for me too (at least during the week). I’ll have to try this new “box” vintage.

  4. Terri Evans

    Melinda, happy to share some of the “box” vintage. Thanks to my knife wielding, we have plenty in tupperware pitchers in the fridge.

  5. JT

    My remaining retirement goal after the last few years of 401K disaster and diminished income has been to “stay out of the box,” as in having enough savings to avoid buying box wine. Now I am thinking, hmmm, being in the box might not be so bad after all. In fact, a leading airline serves box wine internationally with very positive feedback although that could be due to the fact that it is complimentary. How about a box wine tasting in The Dew Test Kitchen? Don’t forget the token Yankee judge and for atmosphere the Mateus and Lancer bottle candle holders as well as a candlelista(designated extinguisher of lighted materials). I also would not offer up the spoils at the corner of Piedmont Park.

  6. Lee Leslie Post author

    Jay -- we’ll definitely do a tasting in the test kitchen soon. I’ll let you know. As for the guys in the park, afraid there won’t be any spoils.

  7. JT

    I was thinking about the tupperware wine in your fridge and then the spoils from a future Dew tasting and recalled a punch recipe from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row which combines thrift and flavor. The bartender at La Ida kept a funnel in a jug and anything leftover would go into the jug. The morning after a party would be the perfect time to begin building your punch. Then you shake a little angostura into the jug. The result he promised was always interesting and sometimes surprising. Enjoy.

  8. Meg Gerrish

    We’ve studied these things. If you do a box wine tasting, don’t forget to include French Rabbit. We kinda liked that chardonnay right up until we got a CASE that had been stored too long in the back of a hot truck. You’ve never tasted anything worse than a box wine that has “gone off.” Keep it fresh, kids, keep it fresh.

  9. Emily C. B. Diffenderfer

    I’ve never had the privilege of familiarity with most of these wines, although a friend did bring by a bottle of Wild Irish Rose from our corner store when we first moved into our neighborhood. Frankly, I think I was shocked to discover it was wine. It may still be in the door of the fridge. Does 3 years send that stuff off?

    Mostly I wanted to comment because my mom swears by the (fresh) box wine, and because I caught a “Boone’s Farm Watermelon” cup at Mardi Gras a couple of years ago and keep it at my desk for water. Now, why would my co-workers make fun of me for that? It’s an American Original!

  10. Lori Fuller

    How did I end up here? Whilst reminiscing about drinking cheap wine at a memorable teenage, under-the-stars slumber party (memorable because I awoke to my head nearly being seriously burned from a smoke bomb thrown at us by neighborhood boys trying to impress), I tried to recall the wine labels, but could only remember the Boone’s Farm one and not the other. So, I searched and, voila, ended up with not only the label name (Ripple, if you must know), but also, thanks to Lee Leslie, with this breath of fresh Southern air called LikeTheDew that I had never heard of. Thank you Lee.

    Thankfully, the smoke bomb only singed my hair, but I had to go to school with stubby burnt bangs until they grew out.


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